Your grill is all fired up, or maybe you’ve browsed the paper for all the great sales, or your family car is packed with camping equipment in preparation for this holiday weekend.  All this excitement is leading up to the official send off to summer: Labor Day Weekend.  Everybody gears up to send off summer with a bang through parties, vacations, and super sales. One last weekend to go swimming or camping before the Fall weather settles in.

But isn’t this weekend supposed to be about something else? Oh that’s right: it’s Labor Day! But what exactly is Labor Day? With all these summer distractions, we seem to have forgotten what this holiday weekend is supposed to represent. Labor Day is meant to honor the labor unions and movement in general. This seems to have been forgotten behind all of the hooplah of drinking and shopping. It is even more important to pay attention to in this political climate where the union and worker’s rights have suddenly become the enemy of the far right.

The true story of how Labor Day came to be is far more exciting than any party you might attend this weekend, or at least to us history nerds.  The very first Labor Day was created in 1885 by Central Labor Union in New York, but became an official holiday in 1894 by Grover Cleveland.  The holiday was established less to honor the workers than to pacify the labor unions who were in a heated battle with the US Government.

Basically Cleveland created the holiday in order to ease tensions created during the Pullman Strike, which was a nationwide railroad strike that halted train travel beginning in the Chicago area.  This being the days before cars and airplanes, the train was the main mode of transportation. Imagine the entire airline industry going on strike today. Anyway, there were serious wage reductions and the workers fought back in 27 states. Everything raged out of control when strikers and sympathizing protesters set fire and the US Marshalls were called in. Unfortunately, everything spiraled even further out of control with the US soldiers killing several striking workers. You read that correctly, the government murdering it’s citizens.

And here is where Cleveland stepped in. In 1894, he made it his priority to reconcile with the Labor Union Movement. He instituted a national holiday in order to honor the labor unions and workers around the world.  It was originally mean to only be a day to honor them, a description or the original celebration included a parade that would celebrate “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.” Somehow a century later it had evolved into another consumer driven party.

But that doesn’t mean you have to ignore what Labor Day really stands for. As we mentioned, we often forget the sacrifices those who came before us have made.  Especially when the economy is suffering and the some in power have made a vendetta in breaking down the unions, the unions that so many died to create.  Maybe this weekend, try to fit in a little labor right’s history or attend a local parade. Or at least, think of those who sacrificed their lives so you could be treated fairly in your workplace. They are the reason you have Monday off and can kick back while drinking a brewski as the summer ends.

Our hand bag collection and new winter accessories (coming soon this Fall!) are produced by a worker-owned cooperative in Peru called Northern Creations. The Co-op is comprised of 25 mothers that have joined together to improve the standard of living for their families. Located in rural Piura, a hot, desertlike area 3 hours north of Lima, steady employment is hard to come by – especially for women. The mothers of Northern Creations took matters into their own hands, did what they know best (knitting and crocheting), and decided to start their own Fair Trade business.

They started meeting informally in January 2007 and have since legalized their business, expanded their product line, and are busy filling orders for their US distributor, Autonomie Project! Indeed, their handiwork is beautiful and well-crafted. A true testament to the talent of these extraordinary women!

We thought it would be nice to highlight some of the women behind our products and get their perspective on how this cooperative has impacted their lives! These are interviews with a few key players of the coop conducted earlier this year.

Maria Dolores Febres Rivera (Loly), age 23
Children: Belen (age 2)

My biggest accomplishment so far as President has been getting to know myself. I have realized that I am able to make things happen through my talent for making crafts, which God has given me. In addition, I am learning how to operate more effectively as president. For example I am learning how to speak more directly and confidently which will ultimately help me and the rest of my coworkers. Also, I am learning how to better guide the association, specifically how to organize and complete quality products and do it with kindness. I am ready to continue facing challenges that appear, as President and as a member of the Association. My hope is that [Northern Creations] exists forever, that the Association grows in terms of its products and members, and that it is a source of employment for “Piuranos” with a stable market and consistent sales.

Magali, age 27
Children: Emmanuel (age 13), Paul (age 7)

I have learned that there is something inside of me that I did not know was there. It’s the ability to crochet and the knowledge that with my leadership I can help this association grow. I hope that everyone who started this association continues and achieves success. I hope to leave this association organized and well run. I hope that in the future [Northern Creations] is viewed as an example that anything is possible and that success can be achieved even by women.
Clara, age 52
Quality Control
Children: Lisby (age 28), Victor (age 27), Jaime (age 26), Lilian (age 23), Franco (age21)
2 grandchildren

I have formed new friendships. I have learned that my age should not prevent me from learning and improving my life. Due to my position I have learned that I need to set the example and produce quality work to be able to demand that from my coworkers. I hope that [Northern Creations] grows and that I am able to continuously give the best of myself.

Juli, age 24
Vice President
Children: Yasuri (age 5)

My biggest accomplishment so far is that I have become friends with people I did not know previously in my own neighborhood. I have learned from their experiences and seen other perspectives on life. I used to think that only men could work and maintain the home financially but that is not so. Women also have the ability to do so, maybe even more than men. I hope that we continue working and developing as an Association. I hope that this lasts. I hope that we are able to sell products not just in the United States but around the world. I hope it continues so that there is work for the women of La Florida. We are leading the development and improvement of our neighborhood.

We are very excited to continue working with these women and hope to assist them in any way we can to build their business and watch their community and families thrive and succeed!

This past April 2008 a major victory in the anti-sweatshop move was completed. Congress voted in a bill to be signed into law that will extend US Federal Immigration and Labor Laws in the US territory, Mariana Islands. The Mariana Islands have been known to have some of the worst labor abuses in the world.
Location of the Mariana Islands 

The islands were used as a haven for many Chinese sweatshops to set up camp. The products produced there were used to deceive US consumers, since they carried the “Made in USA” tags. People consciously attempting to buy only US made clothing and other goods were mislead by the seemingly sweatshop free items. Throughout the 1990’s, anti-sweatshop activists and lobbyists worked to end these labor abuses and the deception of consumers but to no avail thanks to people like Jack Abramoff

However, thanks to the efforts of many anti-sweatshop groups including Co-op America the Mariana Islands’ workforce is now protected under the same laws as any of us hard working Americans. To learn more about the Mariana Island human rights movement, please check out the blog Unheard No More. For more information on ending sweatshops and how you can help, check out Co-op America’s Ending Sweatshops Guide or Sweatshop Watch.

Also, remember that many times the only way to wake a company up is by boycotting them and supporting companies that participate in fair labor and human rights. Remember Autonomie Project when you are looking for new footwear, bags, or clothing(coming soon) or any of these other wonderful companies listed on SweatFree Communities 2008 Shop with a Conscience Consumer Guide!

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